Tobi heard whispering coming from the other girls. They had gathered in the living room, beside the stairs, in a huddle where they waited anxiously to see what would happen next. Instantly, rage thundered inside her. Violent colors exploded beneath Tobi’s eyelids, a vivid light show of crisscrossing reds and whites.
She forced her eyes open and cut them at the group, allowing her contempt to shroud her peers. It would cost her dearly – she welcomed the punishment if it meant that she could have this single second to unleash her loneliness and fear under a guise of strength.
She knew that, in this place, anything less than equal footing was a death sentence. Allowing herself this one, calculated move would let the others know that although she was introverted, she was not a whipping post; it would also challenge the authority of Miss Antonina. Tobi was keenly aware of her paradoxical nature: fearful and bold, quiet and raging, sensitive and hard.
In that fraction of a second, Tobi had deduced the thoughts of each of the others. Intuitively, she knew that they believed the same things about her that she believed about herself. They regarded her with the same fascination that a child does when peering into the cage of a wild animal housed in a zoo.
Only Tess’s eyes were different. Her concerned gaze penetrated Tobi’s inner turmoil and anger, causing her glare to falter ever so briefly. Not wanting the others to see the gentle exchange, she turned her eyes to Miss Antonina’s and prepared herself for the Mistress’s vengeance over her insubordination. What she saw in the Mistress’s eyes was a bottomless chasm of derision.
Miss Antonina stared at Tobi for a moment before speaking, calculating her words for maximum impact.
“Miss Sella, has anyone ever told you that you are the very definition of condescending?”
Tobi did not part her lips to answer. The question felt rhetorical and she would not posture herself to please the Mistress. She had made that mistake when she arrived and Miss Antonina had immediately decided that not only did she see something in Tobi that she did not care for, but that she must be the one to reshape Tobi; make her pliable, by any means.
“Very well then, Miss Sella, have it your way. If solitary confinement is not enough to etch any semblance of sense into your thick skull, then you will do penance. No! We will all do penance. Now, turn to your peers and allow them to thank you. Although it is very late, and they are all ready to shower and sleep, we will instead follow in a line behind you to the Nephormed by the stream. Hurry now, face the others.”
To be continued…